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Murfreesboro, Tennessee suddenly finds itself awash with looming broadband competitors thanks to the city’s booming growth. In less than a month, United Communications – owned by not-for-profit electric cooperative Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE) – and Google Fiber have unveiled major plans to expand affordable gigabit fiber within city limits.
MTE-owned United Communications says it has some big plans for the city of 157,000, starting with broadband upgrades for the utilities’ 77,000 existing electricity customers.
According to a recent announcement, the cooperative-owned ISP will spend $85 million in existing cash reserves to deploy 1,400 miles of fiber in the city, bringing affordable gigabit access to existing MTE electricity customers. As with many utility deployments, the upgrades will prove beneficial for electrical grid monitoring and maintenance.
“We’ve already completed phase one in the Boro, which includes our fiber backbone and service to more than 1,000 homes and businesses. As part of phase one, we also built fiber to the square in downtown Murfreesboro,” United President and CEO William Bradford said in a statement. “It was a privilege to put our fiber infrastructure to work by connecting our neighbors in disadvantaged communities and adding resiliency to the local emergency communications network.”
Last year, United received $53.4 million in grants from the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund (made possible by the The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) to help shore up broadband access in numerous Tennessee counties, including Bedford, Franklin, Giles, Lincoln, Marshall, Maury, Moore and Williamson.
Data unsurprisingly ranks remote Alaska dead last when it comes to the availability of affordable broadband. That’s particularly true in areas like Bristol Bay, an area the FCC’s updated broadband maps suggests lacks access almost entirely. But as with most underserved regions, local cooperatives are at the forefront of efforts to finally address the problem.
Launched in 1975, the member-owned Nushagak Electric & Telephone Cooperative, based in Dillingham, Alaska, offers locals broadband access through microwave towers; often the only way to provide service across Alaska’s rugged landscape. But the co-op, which also offers a electric, telephone, and cable TV service, says it’s on the cusp of new fiber deployments that should finally bring next-generation speeds to a chunk of the co-op’s members.
The co-op has been working since 2021 on a $22.4 million plan to expand more reliable fiber to the region. The project is partially funded by the USDA ReConnect program as well as $6.5 million in term loan money from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation. The cooperative will also use $784,000 of its own money to get the project underway.
It may not generate a lot of headlines in a national press obsessed with AI and billionaire fist fights, but the debate over the final version of the looming farm bill remains important all the same. Especially when it comes to the future of affordable broadband.
The farm bill, generally renewed every five years, provides U.S. policymakers the occasional opportunity to address agricultural and infrastructure issues essential to not only the basic functioning of the country, but the very survival of marginalized Americans.
That includes programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or “food stamps”), which provides affordable food to an estimated 41.9 million Americans–or roughly 12.5 percent of the U.S. population.
The bill has also proven essential to the ongoing maintenance and equitable distribution of modern infrastructure, including affordable broadband access. That includes the funding of essential programs such as the U.S Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect broadband grant program, and the Community Connect Grants program.
The farm bill may also soon play a key role in maintaining another key government program: the $14 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) currently overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Both Band Aid And Key Lifeline
Five years ago, the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) announced the creation of the Firefly Broadband initiative, a subsidiary specifically built to leverage the co-op’s existing electrical assets to deliver affordable fiber to 13 underserved Virginia counties.
Half a decade later, the coop says it has successfully completed its $150 million expansion project, deployed 3,600 miles of new fiber, passed 40,000 total homes and businesses, and directly connected 20,000 state residents–many for the first time ever–in less than 52 months.
“Central Virginia Electric Cooperative partnered with Conexon to perform a feasibility study for a fiber build across their entire service territory – 13 counties and 3600 miles,” CVEC VP of Communications Melissa Gay told ILSR. “Once the target costs, offerings and take rates were determined, we chose to race to secure supplies and labor. Finding great partners has been a tremendous help to the success of our project.”
Buoyed by numerous grants including a $28 million combination loan and grant from the USDA's ReConnect Program, Firefly now provides local residents symmetrical 100 Mbps (megabits per second) fiber for $50 a month, and symmetrical 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) service for $80 a month. There are no contracts and no data caps.
About 90 percent of households connected had no broadband access previously, according to Bruce Maurhoff, Firefly’s senior vice president and chief operating officer.
Panhandle Telephone Cooperative Inc. (PTCI) has announced the broadband provider will be dramatically expanding access to its fiber broadband services in New Mexico thanks to a new $43.4 million grant made possible by federal infrastructure legislation.
The Cooperative currently predominately offers fiber broadband, phone, and cellular wireless phone service to subscribers in Oklahoma and Texas. The $43 million cash infusion will allow the cooperative to expand access outside of its existing footprint into rural Union County, in northeast New Mexico.
As per grant rules, the network will deliver speeds of 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) downstream and 20 Mbps upstream, but the cooperative does not yet have a construction timeline or information on planned tiers and pricing.
PTCI’s existing deployments in Texas provide locals with uncapped fiber access at symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps, 250 Mbps, and 1 Gbps for $60, $86, and $116 per month, respectively. The company stopped offering TV services in 2020, but launched its own cellular network in its existing territories starting in 2021.
The project’s $43 million grant for expansion into New Mexico was made possible courtesy of a recently announced fourth funding round for the U.S Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program. Last month the program announced another $714 million in grants and loans aimed at shoring up broadband access to long unserved or underserved rural Americans.
NEK Broadband Gets $17.5 Million Boost as Vermont CUDs Continue Charge Toward Statewide Broadband Access
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a $17.5 million grant to NEK Community Broadband (NEK Broadband), providing another shot in the arm for Vermont’s fast-growing collection of Communications Union Districts (CUDs). Such CUDs continue to play a starring role in Vermont’s efforts to finally conquer the digital divide.
NEK Broadband’s latest grant comes from the USDA’s ReConnect Loan & Grant Program, which helps defray the costs of network hardware and broadband deployment to rural and traditionally underserved U.S. markets.
The program this week doled out an additional $714 million in grants and loans to projects across 19 states.
NEK Broadband officials say its $17.5 million award will be combined with a $5.8 million investment to deliver affordable fiber access to 3,295 homes, 94 businesses, 183 farms and 11 educational facilities across 22 towns in Orleans, Caledonia, and Essex counties in Vermont.
“For too long, large pockets of our state have been denied this critical resource because companies haven’t found it profitable enough to invest,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said in an announcement of NEK’s latest grant. “This federal funding is transformative, because the money is going directly to the very communities who will benefit, instead of having to go through those who care more about profits than delivering service.”
This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Kristan Johnson, Telephone Operations Manager of the Tohono O'odham Utility Authority (TOUA), which provides telephone, electric, water, gas, and Internet service to a large portion of those living throughout the Tohono O'odham Nation in south-central Arizona. Currently, the utility authority serves 4,000 telephone and broadband subscribers. Kristan joins the show to talk about what's like serving as a telephone and Internet service provider for more than two decades at this point, in an extremely rural area. TOUA's plan is to extend new fiber infrastructure to the entirety of the reservation by the end of 2024. To get it done, Kristan says, the utility will use USDA ReConnect Round 3 and other grant funds, as well as internal investment.
She shares with Christopher how the network has been mindful that the devil is in the details, including everything from using modern software platforms to plot both old and new assets, report properly, and manage local politics and member expectations for a public that often doesn't know how the Internet reaches it.
Kristan mentions ArcGIS and we tracked down this information that is related.
The Branch of Geospatial Support of the Bureau of Indian Affairs provides software, support, and training to federally recognized Tribes (employees or and contracted or compacted Tribal employees).
To be eligible for these benefits, the organization must submit an application to participate in the Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) program. The products offered through this program are provided at no cost to ELA participants. Following receipt of the application, applicants can expect to receive a decision within 15 business days.
The software available includes ArcGIS Desktop, Pro, or Enterprise + additional add-on licenses (e.g., 3D Analyst, Spatial Analyst, Geostatistical Analyst, and Network Analyst); Portal for ArcGIS; ArcGIS Online; and ArcGIS Insights.
With or without software downloaded, eligible Tribal entities can register for ESRI-led training online at no cost. These trainings range in experience from introductory courses for those getting started in GIS to managing geospatial data in ArcGIS. Registration for each course opens about one month prior to the course start date.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
In the heart of Maryland's Eastern Shore – a place Forbes Magazine considers one of the “Top 5 Coolest Towns to Buy A Vacation Home” – a fiber-to-the-home project is making the region an even cooler place to live.
Building on its historical allure and 600 miles of Chesapeake Bay waterfront views, state, county and local utility officials are making a multimillion-dollar investment to transform Talbot County’s half dozen towns (and a handful of other unincorporated communities) 40 miles east of Annapolis into a far more attractive place to live, work, and play. To do that, they are relying on Easton Utilities, the county’s seat long-standing municipal utility, to expand high-speed Internet access into the most rural reaches of the region.
In March, the Talbot County Council unanimously approved allocating $1.75 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funds to help bring fiber Internet connectivity to the hardest-to-reach parts of the county. That funding comes on the heels of Easton Utilities being awarded federal and state grant funds totaling $26 million, with the bulk of that going toward a fiber network expansion project known as Connect Talbot, while a portion is being used to upgrade its existing hybrid fiber-coax system.
With construction crews now working to extend Easton Utilities fiber backbone further out into the county, the utilities’ subsidiary – Easton Velocity – is already offering service to over 100 new subscribers.
Known for decades as the "Sweet Onion Capital of the World," tourists are still drawn to the rural farmlands of Toombs County in east central Georgia for the annual Vidalia Onion Festival.
But in early November 2021, officials from the member-owned electric cooperative Altamaha Electric Membership Corporation (EMC), flanked by an assortment of state and local officials, gathered at the sprawling L.G. Herndon Farms to announce the cultivation of a new venture. Through its newly created subsidiary Altamaha Fiber, the 86-year-old cooperative recently started construction of a fiber-to-the-home network to serve its 14,000 members who live in Toombs County and in the six neighboring counties (Emanuel, Johnson, Laurens, Montgomery, Tattnall, and Treutlen).
A 5,000-acre spread where they grow Vidalia onions, greens, soybeans, and corn (with over 1,600 cattle and a trucking company on the property), L.G. Herndon Farms was chosen as the site to make the announcement because the farm also happened to be the first business test customer for Altamaha Fiber.
Fiber-to-this-farm will allow for precision agriculture. And, as reported by The Advance, Phil Proctor, the engineer overseeing network construction, noted an added benefit, especially in an area that prizes college football in the ACC: “The lines coming into this building would allow owner Bo Herndon to live stream the Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech football game in vivid 4k resolution.”
Beyond the Herndon farm, Georgia Public Service Commissioner Jason Shaw spoke of the far ranging benefits of broadband for the region: